Kisumu Traders take on the Streets over Demolitions

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

As I stepped off the tuktuk and onto the usually beautiful streets of Kisumu, my heart sank at the sight before me. Burning tires encircled our revered emblem, the two fish of Kisumu City, positioned poignantly beside the iconic Kisumu Boys’ gate. The acrid smoke stained the air with an ominous haze.

A group of demonstrators filled the streets with chants and placards, “Okunyal riembo wa Kisumo, udwa ni walok kanye?” (You can’t send us out of Kisumu,where do you want us to do business?). Confusion clouded my mind. I struggled to make sense of the turmoil unfolding before me. It was Wednesday, the 31st of January. February was just around the corner. Yawa, what was happening to Jokisumu dala.

Seeking refuge from the mayhem, I made my way into Jubilee Market, hoping to find some respite and a shortcut to Wells Petrol Station. From there I would pick a matatu to Kakamega. But as I entered the bustling marketplace, I found myself drawn into the heart of the unrest.

Traders hurriedly closed the gates of the market, their faces etched with worry and fear. Curious, I approached a group of them, eager to understand the cause of the commotion.

Ang’o matimre oko kanyo?” (What’s happening out there?). I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.

Florence Achieng, one of the traders, turned to me with a sigh. “It’s the demolitions,” she said, her voice tinged with frustration. “The county government has torn down our stalls, and now they want to chase us out of the Central Business District.”

Iriembou nang’o?”(Why?). Her words had shocked me. I realized the gravity of the situation. The very livelihoods of these hardworking men and women were being torn apart before their eyes. Sad.

Jacob Othim, a tuktuk operator in Otonglo route, stepped forward, his voice trembling with anger. “They want to move us to Mowlem and Aga Khan roundabout,” he exclaimed. “But how are we supposed to survive there? Our customers won’t follow us, they’ll opt for motorbikes. Aah, jogi okdwar nwa ber ” (They are against us).

The sense of desperation in his words was palpable, and I felt a surge of empathy for these people who were fighting for their very survival.

As the discussion continued, I learned of the broader issues at play. Rumors of plans to demolish a primary school to make way for commercial ventures, allegations of corruption and nepotism within the county government and recent remarks by Kisumu City Manager, Abala Wanga on plans to completely do away with street vending in Kisumu CBD. Not only that, the Kisumu Bus Park was to be moved to Mowlem, more than a kilometer away from it’s current location. Moreover, Tuktuk operators would be banned from accessing the CBD.

“We won’t go down without a fight,” Jacob declared, his voice ringing with determination. “We’ll keep protesting until they listen to us, until they understand that we won’t be silenced.”

As I left Jubilee market, the echoes of their voices lingered in my mind. Was the county government wrong? Was there a better way, to develop the city and still accommodate the traders and those in the transport industry? But one thing was clear, the people of Kisumu would not rest until their voices were heard.

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